By Erasmo Calzadilla
This time around I want to state my declaration in favor of the animals at Havana’s 26th St. Zoo, especially the monkeys, the ones who make me the saddest. I visited them not long ago and what I saw there was a pitiful spectacle and an unfortunate lesson for the children who visit them. Now I’ll tell you why.
Locked up in iron cages too small to be comfortable, with no vegetation whatsoever and full of plastic containers, cans and other trash that people throw them despite the threat to their health, groups of chimpanzees and other primates live together, separated by species.
The area reeks and the animals’ feces lie on the floor, mixed with their food. Is this a normal way to have things, or are we talking about the authorities’ complacency? If human beings, despite the prestigious institutions that we pay to protect us, sometimes can’t avoid being mistreated – what must these unhappy creatures be suffering in their abandonment?
In addition, parents take advantage of the visit to the zoo to offer their children a lesson in hygiene and Puritanism, and encourage the kids to shout offensive things to the animals when they pick their noses or masturbate in their miserable surroundings.
Monkeys are generally very creative and curious animals, but locked up like that nothing else occurs to them except to wander about the cage, caress their own bodies and beg for food, giving the children a false image of them.
Chimpanzees may not understand spoken language, but obviously they do understand gestures, because faced with the chorus of aggression from the visitors, they respond with yells and by throwing garbage. This becomes part of the enjoyment of those who are standing on the other side of the bars.
The Zoo doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to educate and sensitize about the lives of these beings. There are no explanations about their country of origin or their natural habitats, their customs, the relationships that they maintain with other species, etc. A small sign tells us only the popular and scientific names.
Likewise, the public also has no way of knowing anything about the concrete individuals “on exhibition” there: their particular history or their qualities. In short, there is nothing to help us identify with them and to discover that the hairy bad-smelling creature isn’t simply a rare beast hunted to satisfy our curiosity, but an animal with an identity of its own, a being that feels and suffers. Whoever doubts this need only look into their faces.
We need to be very careful, because the way the zoo is today, instead of promoting interest in ecology, respect for diversity and the knowledge and love of animals it imparts an unfortunate lesson in cruelty.
If anyone knows of any organization in Cuba or in the world that helps to struggle against this, please let me know.